Cot Death

In recent years an increasing number of young children are dying suddenly from a condition of unknown cause colloquially referred to as “cot death.” It now goes by the long medical name of “sudden unexpected death in infancy syndrome,” or “sudden infant-death syndrome” (SIDS for short).

That’s right. It’s a very sad and devastating event for any parents to endure. It usually occurs during the first few months of life. Baby is tucked into a nice warm cot, perfectly healthy to all appearance. But in the morning, baby is dead!

There is no sign of struggle, no apparent indication as to the reason. Generally there is not even a suggestion that the child has moved during the night. It seems that baby has just ceased to breathe. The victim has been in the usual room with the usual surroundings, and with the temperature the same. This discovery is a horrifying experience for any parent. But it is a tragedy for which there is no apparent answer.

It usually casts no reflection on the parents, or their care, attention or love and affection for their baby. True. An enormous amount of research has been carried out over the past few years. This is still being actively followed in many countries. Many things have been suggested as the cause, but no single factor seems to bear the brunt of blame for all cases.

Allergies have been suggested, and the well-known house-dust mite, a potent problem of childhood allergies and asthma, has been blamed following many investigations.

Viral infections suddenly occurring in overwhelming force have also been suggested on numerous occasions. It seems this could be responsible in many instances.

Some doctors claim that cot-death babies are often placed in bassinets with the sides enclosed. The air baby exhales, they believe, accumulates in the enclosure, and so baby is unable to gain adequate oxygen in the air breathed, it being filled with exhaled carbon dioxide. They recommend open-sided bassinets at all times.

Others claim it’s more common in twins. Other ideas are that baby lacks adequate vitamin E levels in the blood. Aerosols, which are used in increasing amounts in Western communities, have also been blamed.

Over strength cow’s milk and excess sodium are recent claims. One factor seems to come through with increasing emphasis, and that is the relative infrequency of cot deaths in breastfed babies. Whether this is due to the unsuitability of cow’s milk in some cases or involves some complex allergy factor is unknown. But it is a big plus in favor of breastfeeding.

Inadequately burping baby after a feed, so allowing regurgitation of milk into the windpipe during the night when the wind is eventually brought up, has been cited as a cause. Its relation to serious diseases such as leukemia, to oversensitive cardiac muscle fibers to heat, to cold, to a deprivation of magnesium, have all been quoted by “experts” from time to time.

All manner of causes have been suggested over the past many years, and I suppose these will continue. True. Every year, medical journals from all around the world come up with new theories. Lately, the mattress has been implicated. Some say baby should not be put into the cot face down, for the child may suffocate, especially if the infant suddenly weakens and runs into respiratory distress. Others claim waterbeds have an adverse effect. Overheating is another suggestion.

Cot deaths probably have a multiple number of causes. The mother can only do her best. It is pointless sitting by baby’s bed all night, fearing or waiting for the worst. A survey in Britain recently indicates the rate of occurrence is about one in 400 deaths a year as due to this cause.

Maintain baby in a room of even temperature; avoid sudden temperature variations; keep the use of aerosols to a minimum; breastfeed whenever possible and for as long as possible; reduce house dust to a minimum; and make sure baby’s bassinet is well-ventilated and open at the sides.

With present knowledge, this at least would help overcome some of the alleged causes of this very unhappy event. If you do all these things, then you have at least done your very best.

These are used, usually if there has already been a cot death in the family, and there are other babies in the home. The device is attached to the baby, and if it stops breathing for say 15 seconds, an alarm sounds off to alert the parent to come quickly. Results recently published seemed to indicate they had not made any worthwhile impact on the death rate. What’s more, some doctors say it makes nervous wrecks of the parents who are continually on the qui vive, straining to hear the alarm!